Ariane 5 launch failure investigation delays Rosetta
Posted: December 30, 2002

Launch of Rosetta was delayed in the wake of the December 11 failure of Ariane 5. Photo: ESA/CNES/Arianespace
The European Space Agency's ambitious Rosetta comet explorer will miss the opening of its tight launch window January 12 as the investigation continues into the failure of Arianespace's Ariane 5 rocket.

The heavy-lift rocket malfunctioned minutes into flight December 11, ultimately having to be destroyed over the Atlantic Ocean.

Although Rosetta will fly atop a different version of the Ariane 5 than the one that flopped, officials announced Monday that pre-flight preparations for next month's launch were being halted.

"The inquiry board will submit its final report to Arianespace on Monday, January 6, 2003. Until then, the irreversible operations linked to Rosetta's launch have been suspended, which will result in a launch postponement of several days beyond the targeted date of Sunday, January 12."

A new launch date will be announced around Saturday, January 11, officials indicated.

Scientists say Rosetta must be launched by the end of January to achieve the proper trajectory to Comet Wirtanen.

"The cosmic clock of the Solar System fixed our launch date when Comet Wirtanen was selected as Rosetta's target ten years ago," John Ellwood, project manager for the mission, was quoted as saying a few months ago. "Although there are risks in a precise, rather short launch window, it's had the advantage that everyone concerned knew there was no room for discussion -- they had to be ready."

The craft will use gravity assists from Earth and Mars over the course of its journey to reach the comet in November 2011.

After entering orbit around the comet, the Rosetta orbiter will release a small lander onto Wirtanen's icy nucleus.

This artist's impression shows Rosetta, its lander and Comet Wirtanen. Credit: ESA

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